The United States is experiencing a renaissance in manufacturing, and the semiconductor industry is going along for the ride, according to Karen Savala, president of the Americas at the fab tool trade group SEMI.
OK, Savala is not an impartial observer. Her job is to promote North American semiconductor capital equipment vendors, and the notion that chip building can make a comeback in the US is mighty appealing to SEMI member companies.
For years, the conventional wisdom has been that chip making -- like just about all other high-tech manufacturing endeavors -- is slowly (or not so slowly) shifting to Asia, where less expensive labor and often more favorable tax policies make it more economical. But Savala, citing a recent Time magazine article, maintains that manufacturing in general is making a comeback in the US, and that chip making and other high-tech manufacturing operations are a big part of it.
"High-tech manufacturing is thriving in the US, and some is even return to the US," she said Monday at a kickoff press conference for the annual Semicon West tradeshow in San Francisco.
Karen Savala, president of SEMI Americas, says chip building is making a comeback in the United States.
There has been much activity in recent years in upstate New York, where a number of semiconductor R&D consortiums are getting down to work. Globalfoundries has built a massive fab there. But is that enough to be considered a renaissance?
Savala said the increasing complexity of chip manufacturing favors close geographic proximity to fabless chip vendors, the semiconductor supply chain, and R&D. Most of those are still found in the US. She also cited a "growing recognition of the importance of public-private partnerships in high-tech manufacturing," including the Global 450mm Consortium in New York. The building of chips on 450mm wafers will get its start in the US, and the first generation of 450mm megafabs will be located in the US.
In addition, Savala mentioned US President Barack Obama's recent visit to an Applied Materials facility in Austin, Texas, as well as several examples from Obama's most recent State of the Union address that would appear to support high-tech manufacturing in the US. "At SEMI, we believe there is a renewed appreciation that semiconductor manufacturing is one of the most important industries in the US," she said.
Savala cited Semiconductor Industry Association statistics that put total direct semiconductor employment in the US at nearly 245,000 and growth in the US chip manufacturing workforce at 3.7 percent for 2011 -- three times the rate for the broader US economy. She also said that the chip industry is responsible for creating more that 1 million jobs in the supply chain and related US sectors, and that semiconductors are one of the leading US export categories -- larger than corn, wheat, and soybeans combined.
Again, consider the source. A comeback by the US chip building industry would be good for Savala and for SEMI. She makes some good points, but calling this a renaissance still seems like a reach. What do you think?